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Good Guys shouldn?t come last
I was watching with interest the Fox Sports program ?The Back Page? on Monday. They had Manly legend Steven Menzies on to discuss his career and this year?s solid representative form. Like many recent interviews with Rugby League stars the topic got on to the sustained problems high profile sports stars seem to have with alcohol abuse. The usual excuses for poor behaviour were trotted out by panelists (I think the phrase ?under the spotlight? was coined more than once) before host Mike Gibson quizzed Menzies on whether he had ever been in a situation where he was in danger of being caught up in a controversial moment. After considering the question, Menzies explained that he?d never felt like he had been in such a situation.
Sounds unlikely doesn?t it. But it?s true. In the 12 years the Beaver has been playing professional Rugby League, we?ve never heard of him being involved in any drunken brawls, disrespect to women, or unprofessional activities. Look around Menzies? teammates and you can find a few other players who have managed to balance a professional sporting career and a responsible attitude toward the public, their club and themselves. Expand our study and amazingly there seems to be a clear majority of players with simular morals to the Manly legend.
Undoubtedly, like Menzies, many of these players enjoy going out and socialising with their mates. They simply understand what is acceptable and what is not when they?re in public. They know, for instance, biting a stranger, running amok in a university campus or arriving at work drunk is not the way to make your mark in life.
Sadly for the code, 24 hours before ?The Main Games? interview with Menzies, Parramatta halfback Tim Smith was involved in a drunken scuffle at a Sydney pub. This was the third time in three months Smith had been involved in an indiscretion involving alcohol.
Many will argue whether a $1000 fine and a booze ban is an appropriate punishment for Smith. Unfortunately very few players will ever receive severe punishments due to the fact that good players are hard to find and often harder to keep. Upset a player and you may lose a match winner forever.
A positive solution however is to reward the good guys in League. Players such as Menzies have never received any external reward for being such a positive influence on the image of the game. Some could argue that good guys are rewarded with career longevity, but the umpteen chances clubs give their misbehaving players suggests otherwise.
The NRL could however be active in rewarding these players. A system that may work could involve the NRL selecting 3 players per team as regional/district Rugby League ambassadors. The players involved would require a squeaky clean record both on and off the field. These players could be used in the community as mentors, coaches or spokesmen for community organisations. The NRL could find funding, through sponsorship, to pay the players a small wage outside of the cap for their contributions. Such a move would not only reward players who have behaved responsibly, but would provide junior players and fans a clear example of someone to aspire to. It?s also reasonable to imagine, considering the type of players involved, that being an ambassador would be the first step for many towards a career in the clubs coaching or administration staff.
Later on ?The Main Game?, the Beaver was asked why he avoided trouble when others seemed to attract it. He couldn?t think why this was. Some people just avoid trouble without even knowing it, and it?s about time they are rewarded for it.